Traditionally, it is a rare thing for a concerted work to be performed by the Academy Festival Orchestra, except on "Concerto Night." This makes the next performance of the orchestra — at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Granada Theatre — all the more special an event, since the remarkable pianist and writer Jeremy Denk will front the band for a, no doubt thrilling, rendering of a Ludwig van Beethoven concerto.
This is, indeed, the kind of program that tends to create music lovers by the dozen (one could almost say, by the score). We will hear Strauss' famous Nietzschean tone poem, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Opus 30 (1896); Beethoven's Concerto No. 1 in C-Major for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 15 (1797), with Denk, and the Suite No. 2 from Ravel’s sensuous ballet, Daphnis et Chloé (1912).
I called Zarathustra "Nietzschean," but this is true only in the sense that it is Strauss' attempt to express in music how Nietzsche's gorgeous and baffling masterpiece made him feel when he read it. In purely instrumental music, no direct equivalence is possible between a line of text and a bar of notes. In his Third Symphony, Mahler got around this by simply setting part of Thus Spake Zarathustra as a song, and "What the Midnight tells Me" is one of his greatest.
In the 1890s, Nietzsche — now completely off his rocker — was all the rage among German intellectuals. He and the arch-pessimist, Schopenauer, divided German-Austrian culture between them. That is not to say that Strauss or Mahler — or Thomas Mann or Sigmund Freud — actually "got" what Nietzsche was after, but reading him was an exhilarating, liberating, experience for them. In one of his last (semi-)coherent utterances, a letter to Overbeck, Nietzsche wrote, "I yet hope to demonstrate that I am somebody who pays his debts — for example, to you. I am just having all anti-Semites shot" (Jan. 6, 1889).
The Beethoven concerto makes no pretensions to literary reference. The outer movements are playful and melodic; the slow movement is deliciously sentimental, not tragic. As long as there are concert halls, this work will always be welcome on the program.
Tickets to this concert are $48, $38 and $15, and they can be purchased by phone at 805.969.8787 or online by clicking here. Tickets are also available from the Granada box office at 805.899.2222.